Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks it took a while for the auto industry to believe Tesla was the real deal and now they are paying the price for it.

In a new interview, Musk explains why the auto industry hasn’t caught up with Tesla yet and where Tesla’s priorities are going forward.

Motor Trend made the 2013 Model S the “ultimate” car of year over the 70 years the publisher has given the award to highlight that other automakers still haven’t caught up to the capabilities of the electric vehicle from 6 years ago.

The publication famously snubbed the Model 3 in its debut year in favor of the Alfa Romeo Giulia. .

Tesla has significantly improved its flagship sedan over those years – most recently earlier this year with a motor and suspension upgrade – but there’s a very real argument that can be made for even older versions of the Model S beating the competition.

When asked in an interview with Motor Trend why he thinks other automakers are having trouble catching up, Musk said that they didn’t even try to compete because they didn’t believe Tesla would succeed:

“Well I don’t know. It’s surprising to us. I thought the industry would have had cars that are competitive to the Model S well before now because as we were talking about—the Model S debuted in 2009, and even if people thought, “Well, that’s an impossible car to build,” which conventional wisdom said that the Model S was an impossible car to build, and there were many articles written to that effect. But once we started delivering them to customers and they were approved by the regulators and met all of the safety requirements, it’s like the Model S has got the best safety rating that NHTSA had ever tested of any car. I really expected that there would be within maybe three years or something, we’d have something that was better than the original Model S.”

The CEO added that “the car industry is just fairly slow to evolve” and he believes that they “didn’t take electric vehicles really seriously” until 2014 or 2015 – giving Tesla a significant lead.

Musk also argued that competitors make many cars with “no soul”:

“And the overarching goal is, what can we do to make you fall in love with this car? And I think the biggest thing about Tesla and the cars that we make is that this is not designed by a soulless corporation. There’s not like some finance spreadsheet or something like that with some market analysis. There’s none of that. Obviously we need to bring in more money than we spend, but at the end of the day we want to make a car that we love, that hits us in the heart, that makes you feel. And how many of these cars, they have no soul.

He added:

“They make all these cars that have no soul or no heart, and they wonder why nobody feels anything for them. Why should they?”

Interestingly, some automakers have claimed that electric cars have no soul (except for the Kia Soul EV of course).

With the Taycan, Porsche claimed that it s bringing ‘soul’ to electrification.

As for keeping its lead, Musk said that Tesla needs to reduce the cost of electric powertrains and focus on autonomy:

“We’ve got a really exciting product lineup, just when we’re talking about Tesla specifically, and we can talk more about the future, but we’ve got the Tesla Semi, the new Roadster, later this year hopefully we’ll be unveiling the Tesla pickup truck, and Model Y will be going into production. I think in general, though, from a societal benefits standpoint, we need to just improve the cost of an electric powertrain—the battery pack and powertrain overall—to make the car more affordable, and we need self-autonomy. Those are the two things at a very high level that matter the most. But doing it along the way with heart and soul.”

Musk again hammered on autonomy, which he thinks is going to fundamentally change the industry sooner than most people think.

He aims for Tesla to have a fully autonomous product by the end of next year.

Electrek’s take:

One has to wonder if the publication and its editor are trying to make up for the gaffe of snubbing the historically important Model 3 with this new award.

As for the 2012 Model S, it would be hard to argue that any vehicle coming this year or next will challenge it in terms of speed, screen size, range and its 7-seat space (which we’ve now confirmed was built to facilitate Musk’s 5 children). Certainly the Audi e-trons, Jaguar i-pace and Porsche Taycans are getting close.

The “soul” comment is clearly in response to Porsche’s plan to market their EVs as having a soul.

Going forward it seems that Tesla is focused on cost reduction. One wonders if that $25,000 Tesla will arrive in time to stave off entrants from VW, Kia/Hyundai and others.


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